SUN Hockey Pool

Oil together now

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

So, here we are.

Peter Forsberg is in Philadelphia, Dany Heatley is calling Ottawa home, Wayne Gretzky is coaching in Phoenix and the Edmonton Oilers can spend as much on their player payroll as the New York Rangers.

It really has been a while, hasn't it?

Welcome to the new NHL, which has emerged from a lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season with a $39-million salary cap, wages rolled back 24%, new rules and, hey, did we mention the Oilers can spend as much on player payroll - one that now includes Chris Pronger and Michael Peca - as Glen Sather does on Broadway?

So, some 18 months after missing Western Conference playoffs by two points with a record of 36-29-12-5 for 89 points, what will GM Kevin Lowe and coach Craig MacTavish get for the cheques being endorsed by the Edmonton Investors Group?

We'll find out soon enough, starting tonight when the puck drops on the Oilers 2005-06 schedule against Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche at Rexall Place, the first of eight meetings between the teams this season.

Here's a look at how the latest edition of the Oilers stacks up.

- - -

UP FRONT

LEFT WING

Ryan Smyth

Raffi Torres

Ethan Moreau

Todd Harvey

Brad Winchester

CENTRE

Shawn Horcoff

Michael Peca

Jarret Stoll

Marty Reasoner

Jani Rita

RIGHT WING

Radek Dvorak

Ales Hemsky

Fernando Pisani

Georges Laraque

YOU SHOULD KNOW

Dvorak was a non-factor in pre-season, going pointless and managing just six shots in four games ... Hemsky (3-2-5) and Torres (1-4-5) led the team in pre-season scoring ... Smyth recorded his only points, a goal and an assist, in the final game of pre-season, a 6-2 loss in Vancouver ... most of the Oilers goal-scoring pop is on left wing, where Smyth, Torres and Moreau have reached the 20-goal plateau ... Peca and Torres were linemates with the Islanders ... Peca has reached 20 goals or more four times, with his career-best being 27, in 1998-99 ... the Oilers three other centres, Horcoff, Stoll and Reasoner, have 90 career goals in 574 NHL games combined ... Horcoff has increased his points production in each of his four seasons with 16, 22, 33 and 40.

JUST ASKING

What's the worry over goal-scoring?

While this is a lineup distinctly devoid of pizzazz and a pure triggerman capable of 40 goals, the Oilers did finish ninth in the NHL with 221 goals in 2003-04. The only significant change up front - aside from the loss of Petr Nedved after a cup of coffee here - from that lineup has Peca in and Mike York out. If Torres and Moreau each score 20 again and Peca and Horcoff can combine for 110 points, the Oilers will have enough firepower and maybe fans will stop bemoaning the lack of a big, offensive centre. They don't grow on trees.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Hemsky. He'll blossom under the new rules.

WHAT THEY SAY

"In 1998-99, I don't know how many 20-goal scorers we had in Buffalo, but I think it was maybe six or seven. We had a bunch. This team has more talent and depth, I think, than that Sabres team had. It's a very competitive group. We're all going to be pushing each other. Everybody is going to be on their toes because they know there's another line behind that can get the job done.

"I've found that that's more important than having one guy who's expected to score all the goals up front. You shut him down . . . when you have a collective group that can do it, you just go out and play."

- Michael Peca, on the forwards

"The biggest thing for me is that I'm shooting the puck. Over the last couple of years, I've concentrated on shooting the puck. I want to get well north of 200 shots on net this year. If I do that, I'm going to get 25-35 goals. I've got full confidence in my ability to score goals. I believe I'm going to do it."

- Peca

- - -

ON THE BLUE LINE

LEFT SIDE

STEVE STAIOS

ALEXEI SEMENOV

M.A. BERGERON

DAN SMITH

RIGHT SIDE

CHRIS PRONGER

JASON SMITH

CORY CROSS

IGOR ULANOV

YOU SHOULD KNOW

Pronger is a plus-125 in 722 career games, but was a minus-1 in his last full season, 80 games in 2003-04 ... Pronger has 400 career points, while the Oilers' seven other rearguards have combined for just 563 points, led by Ulanov at 153 ... even with Bergeron, who is five-foot-10 and 200 pounds, the Oilers defence averages six-foot-three and 216 pounds ... in his six seasons with the Oilers, captain Jason Smith is plus-62 ... Pronger led Oilers defencemen in pre-season scoring with 1-3-4 in five games ... Staios led with 18 PIM, followed by Jason Smith, with 17.

JUST ASKING

After Pronger, Jason Smith and Staios, how good is this big but somewhat plodding group and how capable is this bunch of excelling under the new rules?

Cross looked like a Senior B player in Vancouver and finished the pre-season minus-6. Bergeron was minus-5.

Ulanov, who doesn't have a step to lose, has a bad groin. Semenov has yet to prove he can be the consistent physical force MacTavish expects him to be.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Uh, Pronger. If he can stay healthy, put in 28 minutes a night and play near his Norris Trophy form of 1999-2000, the supermodel-thin depth on the back end might not bite the Oilers.

BETWEEN THE PIPES

TY CONKLIN

JUSSI MARKKANEN

MIKE MORRISON

YOU SHOULD KNOW

Conklin struggled mightily in the pre-season, posting a 4.87 goals-against average and a .830 save-percentage in 234 minutes through five appearances ... Markkanen, who has recovered from a fractured collarbone, won't be activated until tomorrow, leaving Morrison, who had the best numbers at camp with a 2-0-0 record, 0.48 GAA and .978 save-percentage as back-up tonight ... Markkanen went 31-9-9 with 11 shutouts and a 1.20 GAA in 54 games with Lada Togliatti in Russia during the lockout ... Conklin and Markkanen have just 42 NHL wins between them and a cumulative record of 42-40-12.

JUST ASKING

What, exactly, does Morrison have to do to get a sniff with this organization? He was the top stopper, by a longshot, with the Road Runners of the AHL in 2004-05. He was the best goaltender, by an even more obvious margin, this pre-season. Morrison is the Rodney Dangerfield of this outfit - he gets no respect.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Conklin. Is he healthy enough and confident enough to overcome a difficult pre-season in his first campaign as the top stopper?

WHAT THEY SAY

"Confidence-wise, I'm fine. Until you prove you can do it for a long period of time, continually play well and be consistent, there's going to be questions. I don't have a problem with that."

- Ty Conklin, on assuming the No. 1 job after a sub-par pre-season.

- - -

THAT'S SPECIAL!

POWER PLAY

1ST : SMYTH-HORCOFF-DVORAK

STOLL-PRONGER

2ND: TORRES-PECA-HEMSKY

PRONGER-BERGERON

IT'S A FACT

There's no place to go but up. The Oilers power play ranked 29th in 2003-04 with 44 goals in 338 attempts for a 13% success rate. Only Carolina was worse ... the Oilers didn't exactly get plugged in this pre-season, going 7-for-70 (10 per cent) in eight games, capped by an 0-for-8 effort in Vancouver, which left them ranked 27th ... Pronger, obviously, is the big upgrade. Thirty-one of his 54 points with St. Louis in 2003-04 came on the power play.

BOTTOM LINE

If the Oilers aren't at least 10 spots better on the PP in team statistics, they're in big trouble.

WHAT THEY SAY

"We know it's a focal point. At the same time, as coaches and players, we have to be patient. If we go 0-for-8 (tonight), it's not going to be the end of the world for this hockey team. We're deep enough that we can find other ways to win.

"It's important we have improvement, and we will have an improvement, in the power play. That much we do know because of the inefficiency we had the last time we played."

- Craig MacTavish

"The power play has to come through. If there's going to be more opportunities because of rule changes, you have to take advantage of them. That's going to be a big factor for us. You've got to be in the top 10, or at the very least in the middle of the pack, in special teams."

- Jarret Stoll

- - -

PENALTY KILLING

1ST: PECA-HARVEY

CROSS-PRONGER

2ND: MOREAU-PISANI

STAIOS-SMITH

IT'S A FACT

Edmonton's penalty killing was ranked 27th in 2003-04 after allowing 66 goals on 349 attempts (81.0) ... the silver lining in a very grey year for the PK was the Oilers were fourth in shorthanded goals, with 13 ... balance that number (a net minus-53) against the power play, which scored 44 goals and gave up eight shorthanded goals-against (a net plus-36), and the Oilers were a net minus-17 on special teams.

BOTTOM LINE

Peca, a two-time Selke Trophy winner as the NHL's best defensive forward, will help, but the biggest improvement has to come between the pipes - from Conklin and Markkanen. The erosion of Tommy Salo's game to start 2003-04 was as big a factor in the penalty killing woes as anything.

WHAT THEY SAY

"We finished 2003-04 very strong on the PK and the biggest part of that was the goaltending. When Conks and Jussi played the last 20-30 games, that was the difference.

"With the addition of Pronger and Peca, they're two of the best penalty killers in the league. I expect huge improvement in our (special) teams." - Ethan Moreau


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